Pastoral Exhortation

Children & Worship - I

Written by Rev (Dr) Prabhudas Koshy Sunday, 06 August 2017

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(Previously published on 2 March 2008)

This topic has been a great concern in my heart for a long time. As I have recently mentioned in the church, I strongly believe that we must let our children join the main worship service with the adults as early as possible. There is no biblical warrant for separating children from the main worship, especially those who have grown beyond their toddler stage. I sincerely think that there is great godly wisdom in integrating our children into the main worship, especially those who are 8 years old and above. (In fact, most children can be trained to sit through the main worship service from the age of 6, and some even earlier.)

Biblical Evidence of Children in the Main Congregation

When God’s people in the Old Testament were required to come together to worship the LORD in the hearing and exposition of the Law, the children came together with them. Children were neither excluded nor segregated from the adults who came for worship. The following are some examples of adults and children coming together to hear the Word of God.

At the renewal of the covenant in Deuteronomy 29, we are specifically told that the “little ones” were present together with all the adults and even dignitaries. “Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day” (vv. 10-12). The word translated as “little ones” refers to little children.

Similarly, at the sabbatical year convocation, we are told that men, women, strangers and children were instructed to gather. “When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: and that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:11-13).

Then again, in Joshua 8:35, we are told that “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.” And again we read of similar gatherings during the time of Jehoshaphat – “And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (2 Chronicles 20:13).

In Nehemiah 8:2-3, we read, “And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” Here the phrases “all that could hear with understanding” and “those that could understand” were not referring to adult men and women, because they were already mentioned. So these would be children who were able to perceive what was being read from the Law and also the exposition.

In chapter 12 of Nehemiah, we are told of a thanksgiving service held in the house of God. Children are mentioned along with the adults as rejoicing before the Lord – “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (v. 43).

Just imagine all these happened long before the day of cushioned pews and air-conditioned sanctuaries!

What’s more, in the New Testament, during the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, we see no segregation of children from the adults when people gathered to hear them preach or for worship. The entire family would worship the Lord together. When the people gathered to hear our Lord, the young children were usually present too (cf. Matthew 14:21; 15:38). On one occasion, we are told that the people began bringing their young children to the Lord to be touched by Him (Mark 10:13). For some reasons, the disciples tried to stop them. They even rebuked the parents. “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

There is little doubt that the practice of having children in the worship service was the norm in the early church. This is corroborated by the fact that the apostolic epistles, which were read during congregational worship in the early church, addressed the children directly (cf. Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20; 1 John 2:12; etc.). In general, the biblical pattern is that the Christian family ought to worship together.

Exclusion of Children from the Congregation is a Modern Innovation

In many churches today, bringing children into the full session of the main worship is postponed as long as possible. After Junior Worship, children are provided with Teen and Youth worship services. All these are held separately from the main worship services. As they grow up, they are rather unwilling to participate in the Scriptural form of worship. They look for fun and entertainment, such as what they were given in their Children and Teen worship services. They dislike the solemnity of biblical worship, and prefer a light-hearted and entertaining worship service.

Today, we may be considered radical for suggesting that children go to “big church”. Some would surely consider it to be an impractical thing. I will not be surprised if we also would receive such responses. Over the past 50 years, the church has been encouraging parents to be segregated from children during worship time. In many churches, children are left at home alone, while parents go for prayer meetings.

By the grace of God, in Gethsemane we have seen the blessings when parents encourage their children to join the main worship and even prayer meetings. Though there are difficulties, it is possible to overcome them if we (parents and the congregation as a whole) are willing to train the children to worship our sovereign God with patience and forbearance. Can we teach our children to worship God as we teach them to walk, talk and tie their shoelaces? Certainly. But first, we must see it as a biblical pattern which we must be committed to.

God willing, I will discuss more of the practical aspects of “Children and Worship” in the next article. Let us continue to pray that our children would grow up to be a generation that will worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.